Two Dires will be born to aid in the great war between wolf and man. One can hear, the other, influence. Brothers who, if they don’t turn their wrath on each other, will cause destruction and ruin outward.
—Prophecy of the Elders circa 10th century
The prophecy Stray had grown up hearing about himself and his brother, Killian, was coming true. Kill was coming to town and would be expected to live up to his name, and Stray needed to run to lose himself. To hunt instead of brood, to stop trying to figure out if the prophecy wanted him dead or alive.
As part of a pack of what was believed to be the last six remaining Dire wolves, he was feared and revered. Immortal and therefore invincible, they currently called Catskills, New York, home. They had come back here months earlier to aid the Weres and found themselves embroiled in a shit- load of trouble.
Still, in the woods outside the Dires’ secret underground lair, there was laughter under the glow of the moon. Even if it was foggy, she shone to them as bright as the sun to humans on a hot summer’s day.
The nightly run would happen on the plot of land that was protected by unshifted Weres. Under normal circum- stances, the Dires changed their locale as often as possible. This was anything but normal. The safe place was at the end of a tunnel that let out into a thicket of woods nearly impossible for most humans to pass through. Their leader, Rifter, was there, with Jinx and Vice.
Jinx’s brother, Rogue, remained in a supernatural- induced coma back at the house, along with Harm, the Dire who’d walked away from the pack thousands of years ago and had come back just weeks earlier, bringing a shitload of trouble with him.
Gwen was with them as well. She was Rifter’s mate, a half Dire, half human. Harm’s daughter.
Stray watched Vice rib Jinx for picking up a werechick the night before, and Rifter and Gwen were nuzzling each other. Business as usual, despite everything.
Except Stray had an even bigger secret than the brother he’d been keeping under wraps. Tonight, though, he was determined to shake the maudlin shit off and let his Brother Wolf run wild. And Brother growled in agreement, barely waiting for Stray to strip before the shift began. It was a pain and pleasure kind of thing, a change that took Stray to his limits every time his wolf took over.
“Stray’s gone!” Vice called behind him, and Stray knew his shift would pull the others along. Sure enough, soon he was surrounded by the wolves as they disappeared into the woods, camouflaged in safety.
Stray wasn’t the name he’d been given at birth. He’d ad- opted the moniker after he’d left his pack because he re- fused to use or even think his birth name. Kill refused to change his. Maybe he was too proud or too stupid—or a combination of both. Stray could be stubborn too, but living like a hermit was his specialty, not Kill’s. He couldn’t imagine how his brother had fared all these years in forced isolation.
Being a hermit was okay for Stray—it had been lonely as shit, but it was easier than reading people’s goddamned thoughts all the time, which got old and exhausting very quickly.
The Dires had never pushed him to reveal his ability, nor had they mentioned the prophecy, but that didn’t mean they didn’t know about it. Fact was, Rifter and his Dire brothers might have suspected there were more of their kind out there after they discovered Stray. At one point, Rifter had asked him outright and Stray had denied it. But now that they knew about Killian, would they make the connection about the prophecy as it related to them? And when would he have to admit that there was another Dire pack, one that wasn’t immortal and living quietly in Greenland?
The Elders had never forbidden him to speak on them, but he was oddly protective of a group that had been any- thing but kind to him.
Stray had already given up more in the past few days then he’d ever planned on doing. But this Dire pack had kept him safe, treated him like a brother for the past fifty years.
Maybe he should’ve let them in on all of it—the pack, the prophecy—before now. He couldn’t tell if it was his guilt or their unspoken—and possibly imagined—disapproval weighing heavily on him. And so he ran faster, breaking away from the pack, Brother Wolf craving a solitude he hadn’t gotten since all the shit started raining down on their heads.
He felt his brother drawing near as surely as he felt the moon’s pull. There was a darkness in Killian, one that Stray brought out, and he was pretty sure he shared it as well.
And soon the pack that took him in would know too.
They all have abilities, he reminded himself. But putting his together with Kill’s could turn them both into beings beyond all control.
Power was a damned dangerous thing, but not as much as the freedom he craved. Freedom was as dangerous as shit these days to seek out, but Brother Wolf wanted to hunt. To seek, to stalk prey while relishing in the game of the chase.
He lost track of time and the trails, knew he was pushing it by running this close to the highway, but he didn’t care. His Brother Wolf pushed fast, paws crunching the packed snow.
He was searching. Scenting. His body felt hot and tight and every run made things worse, not better.
He heard confusion miles in the direction he’d planned to run. Paused, listened and let the wolf take in the scene.
Human violence. One human beyond saving. Another, alive.
He still waited, deciding.
Police arriving. Which meant Brother Wolf went in the opposite direction, paws treading the wet earth until he couldn’t hear anything but his own breathing. Everything inside of him relaxed, and he melded into the forest surroundings, because that’s where he belonged.
He scented his prey and stalked it for miles. Sometimes the thrill of the hunt and the chase was better than the catch.
This time the catch was pretty damned good too.
Stray would be the last one back in tonight. Vice shifted and waited for him to show through the thicket of trees some- time before dawn.
The wolf would come back bloody, the way Vice had. Not unusual, but since he’d confessed how young he was— seventy-five to Vice’s centuries—Vice was impressed by Stray’s self-control.
The kid was really a goddamned baby.
“We’ve got to find out more about Killian, ’cause I’ve got a bad feeling about it,” he said finally to Jinx, who’d come up beside him.
“You shouldn’t fuck with him,” Jinx said finally. “This brother thing . . . it’s no joke.”
He knew Jinx was speaking from experience, since his twin was currently all fucked up and lying in some kind of supernatural coma. Only the death of Seb, the witch who’d cursed him, could break the spell—and since that witch was immortal, they needed a hell of a miracle.
“Kill needs to come through with helping to take away some weretrapper power or we’re fucked,” Vice said.
“If Kill’s ability works the way Stray says it does, with Stray reading minds and Kill able to place suggestions into a person’s mind, it will work. We’ll pull it out of the fire—we always do.”
“Hell of a lot to pull out,” Vice muttered. “And Kill can place those same suggestions in wolf minds when he’s with Stray—remember that. Wolf minds. Stray doesn’t know if that includes Dires or if it’s just Weres. This could backfire on our asses.”
“Guess we’ll find out soon enough. Don’t say anything in front of Rifter—he’s just back,” Jinx said quietly as their king and his new queen emerged from the woods, with Gwen still half wrapped around him. Vice opened his mouth to call something like Get a room, but Jinx stopped the comment from flying out of his mouth by literally clamping a hand over it.
“You’d think the run would’ve calmed you,” Jinx told him, but they both knew nothing could for long.
As for Rifter and Gwen, they’d mated days earlier—and even though a mating ceremony would normally give them more time to revel, they couldn’t afford to do so now.
Still, the Elders—Hati, actually—moved the damned blue moon. Scientists were calling it an aberration and astronomers were simply calling it a mistake. But April would now have two moons—a full and a blue, the perfect storm for Seb and his army, and the full moon was less than two weeks away. Seb wouldn’t make the mistake of waiting for the blue moon this time—he’d take advantage of the full one.
So yes, Hati bought his wolves time, but Vice wondered what effect screwing with nature like that would have. It certainly screwed all of them up.
He leaned against the gazebo that was directly over the tunnels the Dires utilized. The protected underground lair was built beneath hallowed ground. There had once been an old church here, razed before the Dires purchased the land. Even though the building was gone, the consecration would always remain.
Vice figured there had to be some religious types flipping in their graves over the fact that wolves were living on church ground.
He wasn’t sure why, other than the fact that they weren’t human. But he’d never understood any organized religion. He’d fought in the Crusades not just because he liked to fight, but also because he liked the idea that everyone de- served freedom.
Well, most everyone. The weretrappers had to get over themselves. Centuries was too long to hold a grudge.
This vendetta on the part of the trappers wasn’t about what the Dires once did to humankind centuries earlier and, hell, they’d paid for it with the Extinction of nearly all their kind. Over the years, the Dires had saved a thousand- fold more humans than their packs had killed. It seemed like it would never be enough. But he’d be damned if he let those fuckers use the wolves to kill. Bad enough the trappers had convinced witches to get into bed with them— although not literally, which Vice would’ve understood. Now the human trappers had all kinds of black magic on their side, thanks to a master witch named Seb.
Because of that, the hunt for the witch who could kill Seb and save Rogue was on. But it was more complicated than that, since killing Seb might also save their asses from the Dire ghost army Seb had raised, made up of the Dires’ dead parents and various other friends and family. And if that ghost army didn’t die with Seb, Rogue, who could communicate with spirits, would be able to take the ghost army down.
That was some crazy shit the witch had conjured. Vice and Jinx had seen them only once, but that had been more than enough. Jinx hadn’t been able to contact the Dire ghost army since—and the Dires didn’t content themselves that it had been disbanded. Seb was no doubt rallying the troops for a destructive march, trying not to give away his hand too early.
Now the sky remained unnaturally dark, as it had been for days. The supernatural influence pulled at all of them, made them uneasy. Growly. Shifty. The pull would get more intense as the full moon neared.
The supernatural storms that had invaded the town weeks earlier had receded, but they were all still vigilant, awaiting their return. The weretrappers weren’t about to give up this easily.
Vice, especially, was getting tense—his shifts from one extreme to another would happen so fast his own head spun, and although he was never even close to being politically correct, the shit that came out of his mouth was worse than ever.
And Jinx was getting nowhere, except more pissed that he couldn’t find the witch he’d been tracking, even though he claimed he felt her—and that she was close.
Stray had been getting more and more agitated as his brother got closer, and Vice kept having to trail him as he left the house constantly during the daylight, as if searching for something.
Between that, training Liam, the young wereking, and ghost hunting with Jinx, Vice barely found time to get into any trouble of his own. And hell, that in itself was too un- natural for him to deal with for much longer.
“Fucking witches,” he muttered.
“Tell me about it,” Jinx said. “Stray’s coming—he just shifted.”
They watched him turn from wolf to human form about thirty feet from them, still covered by the surrounding foliage.
“You’re sleeping out here with him?” Vice asked.
“Yeah, think I will.” Jinx motioned to the covered porch. “We’ll be all right.”
Vice didn’t think any of them would be, but for once, he managed to hold his tongue.
Vice and Jinx were waiting for him. Neither said anything when Stray walked back to them with blood still smeared on his chest. They were all predators who believed in survival of the fittest and enjoyed the hunt as much as he did. Wolves were meant for this, and as long as they were taking down animals and not humans, they were well within their rights.
Doing so kept their predatory instincts at bay—they’d all learned long ago how important that was, but no one more than him.
You’re a beast. His mother’s words echoed in his ear. Why would she be surprised at that? Why would his nature be so bad when they’d been created in Hati’s image?
All he knew was that he didn’t want to be locked up again. Couldn’t bear it. And he hated the old surge of panic that rose up in him, a sign that the street mutt inside of him had not been exorcized.
If he thought too much about it, his scar began to ache fiercely. His heart beat a tattoo against his rib cage as he ran his hand over the long, knotted swath of tissue that ran diagonally across his chest, starting just above his heart and traveling downward, as though someone tried to flay him open.
Someone had, just to see if he would die.
The only scars that won’t heal on a Dire were scars made by another Dire.
Hell, dying would’ve been the easy part.
“Good run,” Rifter said with a smile and a hand clamped on Stray’s bare shoulder. He’d been behind the gazebo with Gwen, who still hadn’t gotten entirely used to being completely naked in front of all the men. She already wore a T-shirt, but the rest of them were bare-assed naked.
The Dires didn’t get moon crazed like Weres did, but his brothers had grown up in a time when hunting prey had been easier and more acceptable.
For as long as he could remember, he refused to be the prey, and outran and outgunned most anyone or anything that dared to come near him.
“Stray, this thing with your brother . . . how much of a fucking freak is he?” Vice asked without prelude.
Stray’s way of answering was to jump toward Vice with a growl. Jinx got in between them.
“Guess I’ve got my answer.” Vice stared at Stray over Jinx’s shoulder. “We need him, so don’t screw this up.”
“Glad you agreed not to fuck with him,” Jinx muttered, his hand shooting out to hit Vice across the back of the head.
Stray turned from them to look up at the sky as the two tussled next to him.
The moon wasn’t ready to relent her hold on the world just yet. These last few hours of dawn were some of Stray’s favorites, the in-between time when most creatures were quiet and everything seemed at peace.
The solitude was what Stray enjoyed the most. He knew Jinx understood that the best, as they were the only two who consistently slept in wolf form, because for Jinx, it blocked out all the ghosts who constantly needed his help.
For Stray, it wasn’t that easy. His ability had been developing at an alarming rate once he left the Greenland pack. At first the other wolf’s emotions had to be really strong in order for Stray to hear his thoughts. Now, if he tuned in, he could hear just about everything—from Dire, Were and human, and maybe even witch—and it made him feel like he was going nuts.
Hell, maybe he was.